Answering Four Of The Most Common Eviction Defenses In California

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Fundamentally, a lease is a financial arrangement for the payment of an amount due (the rent for the year) in monthly installments. If the paying party, the tenant in this case, defaults on these obligations, there is a legal means available to repossess the leasehold.

If the landlord follows the proper procedure and avoids taking shortcuts, evictions are almost impossible for tenants to defend unless they pay the rent due. Bear in mind most leases specify that money which the tenant pays goes first to late fees and then to rent, so be sure and properly account for any receipts.

Self-Help Evictions

Very commonly, landlords try to bypass the legal system to rid themselves of tenants they consider bothersome, mostly because of the time delays commonly associated with the eviction process. The eviction process can be time consuming, depending on the jurisdiction, but it is about the only legal remedy available.

In many of these self-help evictions, landlords disrupt utility services, are slow to respond to maintenance calls, “accidentally” change security passwords, and take other similar actions in the hopes that the tenant will become frustrated and move out on his/her own. Per California law, these landlords are liable for actual damages, a per-day fine, and attorneys’ fees.

So, rather than pursue a self-help eviction, stick to one of the established procedures.

Defective Notice

Even in relatively clear-cut eviction cases, such as past due rent situations, there are specific rules that must be followed or the judge will throw out the case.

For example, in late rent scenarios, landlords must give tenants three day notices before they even file lawsuits. During these three days, the tenant has the right to catch up and the landlord cannot refuse the payment. If the landlord bypasses the notice or refuses to accept payment, the case will most likely be dismissed.

Similarly, landlords must typically give three-day notice of lease violations, such as keeping pets against the rules. If the tenant cures the defect within that period, by giving away the pet, the landlord cannot pursue an eviction action. A legal doctrine called laches sometimes comes into play here as well. Essentially, if the landlord learns about a lease violation, does nothing to correct it for a long time, and the tenant relies on the landlord’s inaction, the landlord may be unable to file a successful eviction claim.

Again, bear in mind that tenant payments usually go first to late fees and then to rent, so if a tenant is 10 days late with $100, a $100 payment probably does not even take care of all the late fees, so the rent is still delinquent.

Constructive Eviction

This idea is similar to the self-help eviction discussed above. Landlords have a duty to maintain leased premises in a good condition. If they do not adequately secure the premises, ignore water leaks, fail to maintain HVAC units, or do anything else in violation of Cal. Civ. Code § § 1941, 1941.1, or 1941.3, and the tenant withholds rent to make the needed repairs, the landlord cannot evict for nonpayment of rent.

Significantly, these items only apply to enumerated safety and habitability issues. If the tenant wants to make cosmetic or other upgrades, the tenant cannot withhold rent regardless of any other circumstances.


It is illegal to evict tenants based on their membership in a number of protected classes, including:

Gender Identity
Marital Status
Sexual Orientation
National Origin

Some of these rights come from the United States’ Fair Housing Act and others come from California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act.

Be careful not to single people out based on status, and remember to keep an outsider’s perspective. The best approach is to simply be uniform. If one tenant has an illegal pet, you must take swift action against everyone’s illegal pets.

Contact Tenacious Attorneys

Tenants have substantial legal rights in California, but landlords have even more rights. For a confidential consultation with an experienced landlord/tenant lawyer in North Hollywood, contact Davidovich Kaufman Legal Group APA. After hours appointments are available.

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